The announcement comes as in-fighting rattles the Conservative Party, mostly due to a dispute between presidential candidate Noemi Sanin and former presidential hopeful Andres Felipe Arias.
In an interview with Caracol Radio, Sanin was asked if she felt that Arias had robbed poor farmers when he was agricultural minister, and answered “yes.”
Sanin’s comments set off a firestorm within the party, with Arias taking umbrage at the insinuation that he is a “thief.” The former agricultural minister says that neither he nor his supporters will attend a party meeting scheduled on April 14, without an apology from Sanin.
For her part, Sanin denies that she called Arias a thief, and has said that she doesn’t believe that Arias earned illicit money during his tenure as minister of agriculture.
The damage caused by Conservative Party factional fighting manifested itself in the actions of the Conservatives who jumped ship to the Santos campaign.
Senator and Conservative Party defector Enrique Gomez cited Sanin’s “thief” insult as the reason he was no longer supporting her campaign.
Politicians with connections to Arias, such as his ex-campaign manager Beatriz Uribe and his ex-campaign spokesman Carlos Albornoz, are also making the leap to supporting Santos’ campaign, fueling speculation by El Espectador that Arias may also give his blessing to Santos.
Conservative Party Ethical Inspector Maria Correa responded to the party-switchers with a veiled threat, saying that being a member of one party and supporting another was illegal under recent changes in elections policy approved by congress.
Correa said that letters of warning will be sent to Conservative Party members suspected of supporting candidates from other parties.
Correa also warned that the party will lobby government authorities to force congressmen that support candidates in other parties to relinquish their seats.
Arias is currently under investigation for his role in the AIS agricultural subsidies scandal. It is alleged that during his time as agricultural minister, Arias distributed subisidies meant for poor farmers to wealthy families and companies, and has since received electoral financial support from beneficiaries of the subsidies.
A list of Conservative Party defectors to Santos can be viewed here.